“Finding Peace – Part 3”
Text: Romans 12: 9-18
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
There is a lot of good stuff in this text, but the one part of this text that I want to pay particular attention to is the part that says for us to not claim to be wiser than we are.
While Heidi and I were raising our three boys we were always grateful that they seemed to almost always get along-and that continues to this day; all three of them are very close. I do remember one brief squabble that didn’t amount to anything, but I wanted to tell the story.
It was a Saturday morning and often in the relaxed schedule of a week-end morning, I would take the time to make pancakes for breakfast. I wasn’t very good at flipping pancakes with precision, so I normally fried them one at a time in our largest frying pan. This usually meant that the pancakes were consumed one at a time as well.
While I was preparing the first pancake a little bit of a squabble broke out between Matthew, our oldest and Jacob our middle son. Zachary, the youngest, was there, but in a high chair and fairly unaware of what was going on. The squabble seemed to be about who was going to get the first pancake and there was a difference in memory as to who received the first pancake last time.
Seeing an opportunity for a lesson, I stepped in and told the boys that if Jesus were here he would simply say; “let my brother have the first pancake, I can wait.” To which Matthew immediately replied; “OK, Jacob, you be Jesus!”
I think of this story every once in awhile when I start feeling like I handled a situation smartly or showed wisdom in some way. The text which I read a few minutes ago reminded me of it again; “do not claim to be wiser than you are.”
We all know people who claim to be wiser than they are. I think we all know people who like to think of themselves as good Christians, but seem to ignore much of this advice in Romans as well. One of the things that I think makes this so difficult for us is that many of us do not understand and we underestimate the power of our own ego. The ego which dwells in each of us is a powerful and crafty force. It shows up in ways that we would never consider being ego, until it is pointed out to us in some way.
One of the best teachers on our egoic minds, I think, is Eckhart Tolle. He has written two books that help us deal with the subject, the first one is called “The Power of Now” and his follow-up book is “A New Earth”. I would recommend both books as being foundational reading if you want to begin to understand your own ego.
So why am I talking so much about ego in a sermon that is supposed to be about peace?
You may not realize this yet, but your lack of peace can almost always be traced back to your ego. If you can learn to overcome your ego, then the prospects for personal peace become much greater. But what I’m talking about here is not a grand “I am the greatest” kind of ego. The ego which creates anxiety or worry or the lack of peace is much craftier than what many of us realize. This also fits with the theme of our last two weeks, because the ego tells us one thing, which his of the world and Jesus offers an example of peace that is given not as the world gives.
I can’t possibly summarize all the information that is contained in these two books about our egos in a 15 or 20 minute sermon. I have been studying these two books for nearly a decade and have not yet absorbed all they have to offer. But I can get you started.
Our egos will tend to create a feeling of lack within us; often it is our ego that points out there is a gap between what we want and what actually is. It is this constant gap, this constant state of never enough, or not quite right, or things could be better that create within us an almost constant stream of anguish, anxiety, upset and pain. Almost everything we do in life, most of our activities, are ultimately designed to help alleviate these anxieties, to alleviate the fears created by the ego which constantly create feelings of insecurity.
The only way to experience peace in the sense of what Jesus was talking about is to awaken to the truth of who you are. You are not what you do, you are not the degrees you hold, you are not your possessions, and you are not how much money you have in the bank or what talents you may have; you are not any of those things. You are a child of God. As a child of God, your worth never changes based on your outside circumstances. Your ego always wants you to focus on the outside circumstances and when you do, anxiety is the result.
Let me put this another way. The world offers us the illusion of peace when we cover up our ego based insecurities with a new possession or a new relationship or a new job or a new “you” because we lost the weight or finally got in shape at the gym. But all of these things are temporary and it won’t be long before anything new becomes old and the sense of non-peace returns.
I have several favorite subjects that I love to photograph. One such subject is the many old barns you see as you travel across the country. Heidi and I found this one on our way to Elk River a few weeks ago. It may be one of the reasons I like to photograph old barns is that it reminds me of how temporary everything is. Can you imagine this barn as a new structure? Can you see the pride of ownership in the farmer’s face? Can you hear the farmer’s ego telling the farmer that now that he has a new barn, all his troubles are over? Can you hear the ego saying that it is the best barn in the county?
The new barn almost certainly provided some temporary peace for the farmer who built it. We can’t know all the reasons he felt he had to have this new barn, but we can know that this structure no matter how grand, eventually falls. All things of this world eventually fail; so why do we spend our entire lives in pursuit of such things? Because our egos tell us that we need it to change what is. If we would simply make peace with what is, then our peace would be lasting and not fleeting. Once you realize that all worldly pursuits are ultimately unstable, there is a peace that arises within you. This is the peace which Jesus gives, this is the peace which the world cannot give.
The barn will come down. But that doesn’t change who you are. The recognition that your sense of self can be linked to something higher than what your ego tells you is the beginning of enlightenment and the beginning of peace.
Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid.